“We started running but couldn’t run fast because of the younger ones,” Sarah, who was nine years old in Rwanda at the time of the genocide, recalls. “I was carrying my youngest brother and pulling my younger sister by the arm. The Hutu caught us and took my brother and sister, put them in a sauce pan filled with water on a fire. I saw them screaming my name for help as the Hutu boiled them alive.”
As the screams grew fainter, Sarah says, she watched as the extremist Hutus cut the lifeless bodies into little pieces and fed them to the dogs.
Now 28, she vividly remembers all that happened that day. Her parents saw the Hutus coming and hid their children in the bush, instructing Sarah to wait there.
“When our parents took us to hide, they told me, ‘Sarah, you are the oldest one. Take care of your brother and sister until we come back for you.’
And then I saw the Hutu cut mother and father into pieces.
In one day, her entire family was violently murdered in front of her. Yet somehow she escaped, and joined a group of Tutsis fleeing to Uganda.
“We had no place to stay when we got to Kampala, Uganda, so we stayed in hiding. They could send the oldest kids to the streets to beg for money and food, and I would go there every day.”
Over the years, she found work and different places to stay, until meeting Joseph, a Christian pastor and head of an orphanage, when she was 24. He heard Sarah’s story and allowed her to sleep at the church, where she started assisting with the children.
“I just started showing them love,” she said, “because I had that experience of being an orphan. The Lord told me to stand with Pastor Joseph to show kids the love they never got.”
Many children there had families who were victims of the genocide. Some had parents who died of AIDS, and others were abandoned.
In 2010, Sarah’s life was turned upside-down once again.
Pastor Joseph, it turns out, was gay.
His name was turned in to the police and his church, largely secretive and made up of many straight and LGBT members, was attacked, looted and burned during a Sunday service.
The business the church ran to provide financial support for the orphanage was also destroyed. Local Ugandans would not support anything led by a gay man.
“It was like the day my parents died,” Sarah said. “At first I couldn’t breathe. I looked to the kids and wondered what would happen next. I told the staff we should pray. I kept looking to God in my heart, saying ‘Oh God, you are the one who created this world and also you are the one who took my parents in the genocide and helped me escape and come to Uganda.’”
Through all this tragedy, she says her faith in God has remained in tact and she loves and supports Pastor Joseph.
“The first time we found out that our pastor was gay we felt embarrassed and shy. Some of our friends left,” Sarah explained.
“But Pastor Joseph preached to us that we are all God’s children. If gay, straight or lesbian he taught us that God is love. If you don’t have love, but hate, you don’t know God. I myself accept Pastor Joseph and his partner with their relationship because God created them to love each other and they are doing a great work here.”
Still, the orphanage lacks the funding it needs to adequately care for the children. There are days the children go without food. They sleep five to a blanket, on the same floor where they eat and play. There are no beds. Uganda’s Ministry of Education recently shut down school functions there because they have no textbooks — an expense requiring $7,500. The government is also demanding the children stop sleeping on the floors, and understandably so. Sleeping on the floor is leading to chiggers and subsequently puts them at risk for disease and paralysis. Beds will cost more than $45,000. All of this before even mentioning the expensive medical procedures some of the children are in need of.
One small church in the U.S. started supporting the orphanage and organized a small trip to visit and document conditions there. Pastor Jerrell Walls and other members of Christ Chapel of the Valley in North Hollywood, Calif., joined by members of E.D.I.F.Y. Movement, flew to Uganda in December 2013 and documented their trip. Though small in size and limited financially, they now make up the sole supporting organizations for this orphanage.
“Our church was initially able to get their bills caught up and food supplied regularly,” said Walls. “They had overdue rent, electric, water bills and medical bills. Even with our support, there are times the children will still miss meals for a day or two.”
This week marks the 20 year anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda.
Note: Due to anti-gay laws in Uganda, names have been changed to protect those in the story.